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Founder of pro-life doctors’ group dying of cancer, requests prayers

MaterCare founder Dr. Robert Walley has asked for prayers for a good death.
Tue May 26, 2020 - 8:08 pm EST
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Dr. Robert Walley MaterCare / video screen grab

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ST. JOHN’S, Newfoundland, May 26, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — The founder of a pro-life international organization of Catholic health professionals dedicated to the care of mothers and babies has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and is asking for prayers. 

Dr. Robert Walley, the founder of MaterCare International, has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, the board of directors of his organization announced last week.

Walley, 81, is at home while “undergoing assessment for a palliative care facility,” the MaterCare board stated in a May 17 press release.

Of a lifetime full of achievements, Walley is most renowned for founding MaterCare International, a group of Catholic obstetricians and gynecologists whose “mission is to carry out the work of Evangelium Vitae (the Gospel of Life) by improving the lives and health of mothers and babies both born and unborn, through new initiatives of service, training, research, and advocacy designed to reduce the tragic levels of abortion worldwide and maternal and perinatal mortality, morbidity in developing countries,” as its website states.

“He remains stubbornly dedicated to his lifelong mission, working for women and children. He continues consulting with our Medical Director, Dr. Bogdan Chazan from Poland and Dr. Elvis Seman from MaterCare Australia as needed to advance maternal healthcare,” the board stated.

“He asks for your prayers for a good death.”

“If I don’t answer you know I’ve run out of time … I’ve gone to heaven,” Dr. Walley joked in a call with LifeSiteNews, adding that he estimates he has until Thanksgiving.

“I don’t want any great sympathy. I’m talking to my God about it.”

Childhood conversion

While Walley’s life’s work is inseparable from his Catholic faith, he wasn’t raised in the Church, and credits his childhood conversion to his going to Catholic schools.

The only child of a “typical Anglican Naval officer,” Walley’s birth in Malta coincided with the outbreak of World War II. The family was evacuated to Egypt on a Naval ship to escape Italian and German bombs, before being evacuated to England. 

“I always say the Walley family shared with the greatest family of all — we were a bunch of refugees,” Walley laughed.

“This might seem extraordinary,” he said, “but we think that my parents must have come into contact with a Catholic priest sometime during the war, and must have attended Mass, because my father used at the end of his letters the closing remark: ‘Dominus vobiscum’,” — a Latin phrase meaning “The Lord be with you” which the priest uses in the traditional Mass.

Moreover, his father decided always, along with his mother, to send him to Catholic schools, the first being the Cabrini Sisters’ school in South London. On the advice of the Sisters, and when Walley came of age, his parents sent him to the De La Salle Brothers’ boarding school, also in South London.

When he was 10, Walley received permission to be baptized in the Catholic Church, just at the same time his father was posted to the Indian Navy in 1948. At the end of his father’s secondment to India, the family returned to England, and Walley to the De La Salle boarding school, where he remained as a student until age 19.

‘Thunder clouds’ of legal abortion 

His father was “wedded” to the Navy, and would have none of the same for his son, so Walley elected to become a doctor. His training in obstetrics and gynaecology coincided with the legalization of abortion in England in 1967.  

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Dr. Robert Walley with his wife Susan at St. Patrick's Mercy Home in St. John's, Newfoundland in 2019.

“It was coming in while I was training … it was looking dark, bleak, thunder clouds,” he recalled.

As a result, he accepted an offer to join the residency training program at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Canada, at which point he asked Susan Samson, a nurse from Guernsey with whom he was working and “the most beautiful, beautiful woman I had ever seen,” if she would like to come with him.

“And she looked at me and she said, ‘Would we be getting married?’ I said, ‘Of course we would!’”

Thus, after planning a wedding in less than two months, the Walleys spent their honeymoon crossing the Atlantic on the Empress of Canada, which “rolled and it pitched and it blew.” 

Although they went back and forth between England and Canada during the course of his training, Walley was ultimately confronted with a stark choice when he applied at a teaching hospital in London in 1973. 

Walley, who had been giving pro-life talks “and so I had a bit of a reputation, maybe,” was asked for his views on abortion and contraception. 

“I said, ‘I think I have better things to offer my patients than killing their babies.’”

The hospital then gave him three options: do abortions, find another specialty, or leave the country. “I had a wife and a couple of kids and I was terrified of being unemployed,” so he called a colleague he knew in Toronto, and said, “I’m coming back.”

Pro-life work from ‘the rock’

Three months after arriving in Canada, Walley took a job at the new medical school at Memorial Hospital in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Thus the Walleys moved to “the rock,” where they have remained ever since, although it was wrenching to leave their parents.

Indeed, Walley still regards England and Guernsey as home. “I never left them in my heart,” he said. “I love Canada … it’s given me every opportunity, but every Easter that comes up, I shed a tear.” 

And he “took to Newfoundland” more than he did to Canada, he said. “The people here were so good and kind and generous, we became part of families.”

Walley, who is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians & Surgeons of Canada, a Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists of Canada, a Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists of England, and has a Masters degree in International Health from Harvard University, continued his pro-life advocacy despite sometime opposition from colleagues.

As part of this advocacy, he worked with Canada’s bishops, and in 1985 Bishop John O’Mara from Thunder Bay asked him to speak to the newly created Pontifical Council for Health, which coincided with his planned sabbatical in Nigeria to “look at maternal mortality and the suffering of mothers and the lack of care.”

Walley quickly agreed, and “I must have been saying things right,” because he was asked to join the council, and remained a member for three five-year terms.

Pope John Paul II: Don’t just talk, do something

From this vantage point, Walley saw the difficulties Catholic obstetricians, gynaecologists, midwives and general practitioners faced from the aggressive global abortion industry, and so he organized MaterCare, a group like-minded colleagues who first met in Rome in the 1990s.

Pope John Paul II told the 120 participants from 40 different countries in a private audience that, Walley paraphrased it, “the Church has never needed you so much as it does now, and please, please don’t quit,” and “we don’t want a talking shop, we want something that will show that the Church is doing stuff.”

MaterCare International has since had projects in Nigeria, Ghana, East Timor, Sierra Leone, and an ongoing project in Kenya, where it built and maintains a hospital for high-risk mothers. It has also started projects in Uganda and Rwanda.

The organization has received next to no Canadian government funding, and succeeds through the generosity of donors, notable among these the Catholic Women’s League.

It also succeeded because his wife, who now suffers from dementia and is in a long-term care home in St. John’s, was equally committed, Walley said.

“All of this … wouldn’t have been done without Susan. She was a superb nurse and she stayed at home and she looked after our seven kids.”

Susan, who attended Sunday Mass throughout their married life and raised the children Catholic, entered the Church on their 40th wedding anniversary. 

The Lord wanted it

“Nothing happens by chance,” said Walley, who received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal, the highest honor that the pope can bestow upon laity and religious, in 2012.

“And all this happened because the Lord wanted, although I’m not trying to claim anything. It all worked out and eventually out of it all came MaterCare.”

His son, Simon, has been with MaterCare International for 20 years, and is now project manager of the organization, which continues its vital work.

“The Walley Family is immensely grateful to all of you for your prayers and support at this difficult time,” the MaterCare board of directors stated.

“We hope that you can take this opportunity to let (Dr. Walley) know how much he means to us and the impact of his tireless devotion to women and children. He has inspired generations of medical professionals and young people to uphold the dignity of all human life.”

Notices of prayers and good wishes can be sent to:

Dr. Robert Walley
8 Riverview Avenue
St John's, Newfoundland
A1C 2S5 Canada


  abortion, catholic, evangelium vitae, gynecology, john paul ii, matercare international, newfoundland, pro-life, robert walley, royal college of obstetricians and gynaecologists

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